USF Reflects on Gentrification in the Mission District

Mural by Precita Mural Arts represents the heritage of the Mission. PHOTO BY ELISE EMARD/SF FOGHORN

The Mission District is one of the oldest neighborhoods in San Francisco. It is known for its flat and sunny streets, authentic art and food scene, and Latine community. Yet, as San Francisco is becoming one of the most gentrified cities in the United States, the Mission is seeing the ramifications of these changes. 

Gentrification primarily impacts long-term locals in a community due to an increase in economic progress, a process that helps land owners and hurts tenants. Because many Bay Area newcomers are ready to pay a price above current rates, landlords are incentivized to increase rents, pricing out middle and low income residents of the area. 

Daniela Rivas, a USF alum born and raised in the Excelsior District, also known as the Outer Mission, first came to understand the term in high school. “My school was right up the block from Valencia Street and I remembered how dangerous the Mission used to be,” Rivas said. “My [high school] Spanish teacher told me it’s because of gentrification that all these new cafes and overpriced shops are on Valencia Street, and I was seeing some shops on 24th closing down.”

The Excelsior District, often described as the “untouched district” by locals like Rivas, saw a recent influx of tourists, and subsequently, a plethora of “for sale” signs.

“We just started seeing a whole new crowd,” she said. “The change was very obvious and it was very slow.”

While interviewing a restaurant owner in the Mission for a research project, second-year  chemistry major Isabella Escutia’s initial view of gentrification changed. “I was actually able to get a sense of community and how it affected them with not just new people coming in, but remembering who the older generation was and how it affected them,” she said.

Escutia said that most of the restaurant’s regular customers moved from the Mission out to Sacramento for affordability. Rivas noticed this change in Excelsior as well, with many of her mother’s friends moving to the East Bay.

Displacement through gentrification not only occurs at the economic level, but has led to the loss of lives on the basis of race. 

Alejandro Nieto was eating a burrito in Bernal Heights Park when he was shot 14 times by the police on March 21, 2014. The taser that he carried for his job as a nightclub bouncer was mistaken as a firearm by white men new to the neighborhood, who called the police.

“We know that [gentrification] is a violent process. It’s not just about a bunch of folks moving in and joining a new community, it’s about that happening at the very painful expense of the displacement of people who have been the fabric of that community,” said Roberto Gutièrrez Varea, professor of Performing Arts & Social Justice at USF and former director of the Latin American studies program and previous co-director of Center for Latino Studies.

As San Francisco becomes a more popular place to live, advocates of affordable housing are looking for a balance between the demand for housing, affordability, and that ensures longtime residents housing security. “We’re choosing between two imperfect solutions. I have yet to see a solution that stops gentrification, but also allows for economic progress to happen and allows diversity to happen,” USF Economics professor Mario Muzzi said.

Varea said advocates should look to each other to find solutions and be less dependent on the government. “Often forces look up at where the problems are coming from and not down at one another for solidarity, support, creativity, and solutions,” he said.

Maggie Aldrich is a fourth-year English major. She can be reached at mmaldrich@dons.usfca.edu.

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